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Joan Marti and Gerald J. Ernst (editors), Volcanoes and the Environment

Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005
David K. Chester
p. 347-348

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1Volcanoes and the Environment is a volume that derives from a vision shared by its editors, Joan Martí and Gerald Ernst, to examine the ways which volcanoes affect the natural world, human beings and the built environment. Conscious that most existing discussions of volcanic impact have “appeared in specialized journal articles and books, making them inaccessible to amateur environmentalists and to most undergraduates and postgraduates”, the editors' objectives, which are also held by the writers of the individual chapters many of whom are internationally distinguished academics, is to provide a text that will be “not only comprehensive in its treatment of the subject but also accessible to a wide audience of naturalist amateurs, undergraduate and postgraduate students in the environmental, geographical and earth sciences as well as an easy-to-carry reference text for all our research and teaching colleagues across many scientific disciplines”.

2Volcanoes and the Environment begins with what the editors term “foundation chapters”. They argue in the preface that these introductory statements are required before the many and varied effects and influences of volcanic activity are discussed in detail in the chapters that follow. In chapters 1 to 3 S. Carey, R. Tilling and J. Martí and A. Folch review, respectively: the physical behaviour of volcanoes; volcanic hazards and anticipating volcanic eruptions. Whereas the contents of the first two chapters are self-explanatory, the third requires some elaboration. J. Martí and A. Folch are both experienced volcanologists and modellers, and discuss the techniques that may be used to study volcanoes in diverse settings. They show how the data collected using these techniques, together with theory and laboratory studies, may be used to anticipate an eruption through combining knowledge of a volcano's past eruptive behaviour (termed “physical volcanology”) and study of its current activity which may be approached through volcano monitoring.

3The remainder of the book examines the effects of volcanic activity on human beings and the natural world. In Volcanoes and the geological cycle, R. Cas expertly reviews relationships of volcanoes spatially across the globe and with respect to geological time. Some of the questions addressed by R. Cas include, inter alia: the contributions of volcanoes to shaping the planet; the frequency and magnitude of volcanic activity at different times in the geological past; and the roles of volcanoes and plate tectonics in the evolution of the planet. R. Cas's chapter is followed by a comprehensive review of the effects of volcanic eruptions on the atmosphere and climate. Written by S. Self, this chapter explores the mechanisms by which different types of eruption affect atmospheric composition and, in turn, weather and climate. Using numerous examples, the author shows how eruptions of different magnitude – including super-eruptions and episodes of flood basalt emplacement – have affected past climates and argues that understanding such scenarios is vital when it comes to examining the possible environmental impacts of future eruptions.

4Chapters 6 and 7 are concerned with exploring the nature of the relationships between volcanism and life on earth; both at the present time and in the past. In Chapter 6, K. Stetter of the University of California poses two fundamental questions. How do life forms relate to volcanic activity? Given this relationship, how is volcanism associated with the wider canvas of the evolution of life on Earth? Over the past few decades there has been much debate about the role of the volcanic eruptions in mass extinctions, especially those that may have occurred at the K-T boundary. P. Wignall in Chapter 7 (volcanism and mass extinctions) sets out a balanced treatment of the arguments for and against the putative part played by volcanic activity in these and other episodes of large-scale extinction.

5Chapters 8 and 9 are complementary and consider, respectively, the effects of modern volcanic eruptions on vegetation and animals and volcanoes: survival and revival. The authors of the former, V. Dale, J. Delgado-Acevedo and J. MacMahon, not only discuss the ways in which vegetation may be damaged by eruptions, but also considers the important issue of those factors which allow certain plant taxa to survive. In Chapter 9, J. Edwards shows how animals may, or may not, survive eruptions of differing magnitude and carefully argues that volcanism is a major process in evolution over timescales ranging from millions to hundred of millions of years. P. Baxter is a medical scientist and physician who has researched the impact of volcanic activity on health for over two decades. In Chapter 10 P. Baxter focuses on questions of: the exposure of human beings to volcanic gases; and the mortality and morbidity expected of eruptions of varying magnitudes and styles. Chapter 10 also makes recommendations for medical and civil defence practice which should be followed during eruptions.

6Chapters 11, 12 and 13 focus on the economic benefits of volcanic activity. W. Duffield, in a chapter entitled volcanoes, geothermal energy and the environment, considers both present day and possible future applications of geothermal energy. Such a review is timely in a world where the deleterious effects of fossil fuels upon the atmosphere are becoming well known and where future supplies of energy are far from secure. In Chapter 12 – Volcano-hosted ore deposits – H. Gibson introduces the important topic of the occurrence and economic geology of the various ore bodies associated with volcanic activity, while in the chapter that follows (chapter 13), G. Heiken continues the economic theme by reviewing the industrial uses of volcanic materials. He focuses his chapter around the uses of pumice, tuff, “pozzolan” cements, perlite, lava, volcanic clays and zeolites.

7The two final chapters are concerned with relationships between volcanoes and humans societies. Chapter 14 is penned by the present writer and is titled volcanoes, society and culture. The author not only examines the relationship between volcanoes and culture in history and prehistory, but also the contrasting responses of societies at different level of economic development at the present time. In chapter 15, C. Benson discusses volcanoes and the economy, and studies the economic costs of eruptions in different counties of the world. Although it is methodologically complex to measure the cost of an eruption, the effects on economically less developed countries are highlighted as often being particularly severe.

8Any course in volcanology requires information to be imparted on volcanic processes and hazards (chapters 1 and 3), volcanoes and the geological cycle (chapter 4) and the effects of volcanoes on climate (chapter 5) and these are well covered by this volume as they are in many other recent texts. What makes Volcanoes and the Environment particularly useful and where it surpasses its competitors, is that it also introduces a number of topics that, notwithstanding their vital importance to applied volcanology, are notoriously difficult to introduce to students because literature on them is so diffuse. Examples include: the contributions made by K. Stetter (chapter 6), P. Wignall (chapter 7), V. Dale et al. (chapter 8), J. Edwards (chapter 9), H. Gibson (chapter 10), W. Duffield (chapter 11) and G. Heiken (chapter 13) and, to a lesser extent those penned by S. Self (chapter 5), P. Baxter (chapter 10), D. Chester (chapter 14) and C. Benson (chapter 15). The editors' aim to produce an accessible resource for the earth scientist and physical geographers is more than fulfilled by this volume.

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David K. Chester, « Joan Marti and Gerald J. Ernst (editors), Volcanoes and the Environment », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement, vol. 13 - n° 4 | 2007, 347-348.

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David K. Chester, « Joan Marti and Gerald J. Ernst (editors), Volcanoes and the Environment », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement [En ligne], vol. 13 - n° 4 | 2007, mis en ligne le 06 mars 2008, consulté le 22 février 2020. URL :

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